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How to address an employee who is underperforming

Posted by Shivali Anand

March 16, 2022    |     4-minute read (746 words)

It's never easy to deal with an underperforming employee, but left unchecked, their behavior can harm team morale and undermine the business culture. Not to mention, an underperforming employee is setting a poor role example and could make colleagues question why they are working so hard when their peer is not.

The classic signs of an underperforming employee include low productivity, poor work quality and missed deadlines, albeit in different degrees and sometimes intermittently. They may turn in stellar work one day and blow a deadline the next. And it’s this unpredictability that makes managing underperforming employees all the more challenging.

Leaders can manage their staff more confidently and deal with underperformance in a productive and polite manner by putting the necessary actions in place.

Take a look at eight common reasons employees underperform:

1. Lack of skills – Each function requires a certain skill set and employees who lack such talents are more likely to lose confidence and perform poorly. Employees with technical competence but poor time management are also less productive.

2. Lack of motivation – Employees who aren't motivated to do their jobs or bring out the best in themselves are likely to perform poorly.

3. Unrealistic expectations – If the work obligations aren't what the employees expected or weren't clearly stated in the job description, they may be disappointed, unhappy or lacking motivation to perform better.

4. Lack of recognition – When employees are not recognized for their efforts, their productivity and enthusiasm for their jobs may suffer.

5. Workplace stress – Employee morale and productivity can be harmed by stress brought on by a poor working environment or burnout.

6. Inadequate training and growth chances – Employees may feel stagnate and underperform due to a lack of on-the-job resources and opportunities to gain new skills or improve their careers within the organization.

7. Lack of variation – When occupations become repetitive, people may lose interest and provide low-quality products.

8. Personal difficulties – Difficult personal situations might impair employees' capacity to focus or complete day-to-day duties, lowering productivity.

Employee performance may be improved with this seven-step plan

Personal troubles or workplace discontent, among other things, can cause even the most committed employee's work performance to deteriorate. However, if you take a consistent approach and follow these seven steps, you will be able to handle these circumstances.

Step 1: Recognize the signs of underperformance.

Keep track of instances where the employee underperformed, and note how their job performance suffered as a result. 

Step 2: Meet with staff one-on-one.

Ask the right questions in a calm manner to discover the real reasons for an employee's poor performance. Arrange a one-on-one discussion to probe their lack of motivation and productivity.

To better grasp the employee's point of view, actively listen to their comments. Ask them how clear they are about their objectives and duties to verify that they understand the work requirements and areas that require improvement.

Step 3: Work together to create a strategy.

Once you have identified the causes for a worker's underperformance, create an action plan to restore productivity. After discussing potential areas of improvement, set a deadline for when you expect to see an improvement in their work performance. You might suggest taking time off if they have personal problems.

Step 4: Arrange for regular check-ins to talk about progress.

Allow ample time for your underperforming employee to consider how they may improve. Establish daily, weekly or monthly meetings to track their progress toward the action plan's goals. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about eliminating obstacles. These discussions can also be used to determine whether the employee requires training or other assistance from you.

Step 5: Provide helpful criticism.

It is critical for an employee's growth to provide appropriate and timely feedback so they can improve performance. Explain why your employee is underperforming, and thank them for their efforts. You'll be able to assist them in tracking their progress and identify areas where they need additional help.

Step 6: Appreciate their accomplishments.

Appreciate the efforts of the underperforming employee when they do begin to improve, mentioning what they have done and how it has benefited others. Employees will feel more confident due to this acknowledgement and more motivated to reach their full potential.

Step 7: Make a written record of everything.

Send an email to the employee after each meeting to summarize planned actions, accomplishments and areas for growth. Remember to incorporate their ideas. This is an excellent technique to keep track of their development.

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